What is the Middle Mile?

When an Avatar falls in the forest, does anybody hear?

If you are a gamer, you have died “virtually” thousands of times.  Why did you die?  Lack of skill?  Lack of practice?  You didn’t know the new map well enough?  Did they reset your talent tree?  Did they nerf your favorite character?  Or did you die due to lag?!!??!

Lag… the arch nemesis of every gamer.  Lag can be subtle, making you just a bit slower than your competitor.  Jitter and packet loss can cause you to miss clutch moves.  Worst case scenario, your lag will be so bad that you can’t even play the game.  Your amazing state of the art game has been reduced to a chat client with pretty pictures!  When lag is bringing you down and racking up those virtual deaths, does anyone care?  Who do you tell to fix it?

Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) - The First Mile

The connection with your ISP is typically called the last mile.  Forget about that.  WTFast flips the Internet upside down.  We look at the Internet from the perspective of every gamer.  For you, your ISP gives you the first mile to the Internet.  They are your doorway to the Internet.  You knock on your ISP’s door, and they open you up to the rest of the world!

Often when you have lag, you look to your ISP to solve the problem.  This is logical, they deliver the world to you, so they must be responsible for how the world is delivered to your doorstep, right?

Logical thinking, but in most cases, the source of lag is not actually your ISP.

Compare your ISP to the doorway of your house.  When you walk through your doorway, provided your door is working just fine, you’ll get out of your house amazingly fast and you will be well on your way to work.  Your local ISP typically has reliability as good as the door to your house.  Like most people, your doorway usually opens and closes just fine 24/7, 365 days of the year!

When is your ISP (your doorway) the source of your lag?

Imagine if the lock on your door is stuck, or if the door falls off the hinges.  This is going to ruin the rest of your day; it is going to cause cascading issues, resulting in the rest of your day being off.  You might be late for work, you might miss your ride, or you might miss work completely while you fix the door. 

Your ISP is like the doorway of your house.  If your ISP is having problems with your doorway to the Internet, it is going to cause cascading issues for everything you are trying to do on the Internet.  A simple way to test this out is to see if multiple things you normally do on the Internet are also affected.  Go to your favorite websites, try different games, etc.  If they are all lagging bad, you probably have an issue with your local connection to the Internet.

If you aren’t afraid to show off your mad tech skills, you can also try doing a traceroute, to any target in the world.  If your local ISP is having problems, you are going to see cascading issues across the entire trace to any destination that you send a trace to.  This means you will see lots of ping spikes and/or packet loss, starting at your house, and for every hop after that, until the destination.   The good news is that if you have a traceroute that shows cascading spikes/loss from your house, you can show that to your ISP, and they should be able to do something about it.  If the spikes/loss are not cascading (i.e. not on every single hop after your house), then your local ISP is not the issue. 

WiFi is not your friend.  While convenient, WiFi unfortunately is susceptible to interference.  This interference can create a game connection with lots of jitter and packet loss.  If you do a traceroute over your WiFi, there is a high probability that you will see cascading jitter and packet loss to any target.  Clearly this is a problem, it is going to make your online gameplay choppy.  If you see this, your ISP can’t help you, this is just the nature of a WiFi connection.

If you want to make sure that your game connection at home is nice and smooth, we recommend doing a wired / ethernet connection.  This will ensure that your connection at home is as good as possible, without outside interference hampering your gameplay.  Your ISP can help you with getting more wiring installed at your house to support all your devices. 

The Backbone Providers - The Middle Mile

We described your ISP as your doorway to the Internet.  This is true, but they extend their network further than just your doorway.  Likely your local ISP controls the Internet connections within your city, and often also within your state/province.  The challenge with most of the online games you play, is that they are probably hosted on a server outside of your city or state.  What does this mean?  It means that in most cases, your game traffic will be leaving your ISPs first mile network that they control. 

Once your ISP is done handling your data, they hand it over to the backbone provider(s).  Think of the backbone providers as how you get to work or school.  You might walk, bike, drive or take the train.  Depending on how and where you travel, it is going to impact your trip to work.  Your car might get a flat tire, you might see construction, traffic congestion, or you might make the wrong train connection. 

The same type of problems can happen on the Internet.  Imagine how many ways you can travel from LA to NY.  There are just as many ways to get from LA to NY via the Internet.  The backbone providers are the middle mile.  The middle mile is where you are most likely to experience problems with your connection.  The larger the middle mile is, the more complicated your trip becomes, increasing the likelihood you will run into problems. 

The middle mile is where WTFast operates.  We grab your data as close as we can to your house, and we send your data over our own private network, instead of the normal path it would have taken over the Internet.  By doing this, we can control the connection from end to end, ensuring your ping time is as low as possible so your base connection speed is optimal; we also ensure your jitter and packet loss is also as low as possible, this ensures a smooth connection so you don’t miss those clutch moves! 

How much can we improve the connection with WTFast route optimization?  Here are a couple of recent real-world examples that show visually how route optimization can improve your connection. 

Unnecessary trips as shown in these examples are a clear indicator of how the middle mile can go bad.  In addition, congested routers along the way can lead to lots of jitter and packet loss, causing a choppy connection for your game.  These are the problems we solve with WTFast. 

Kelowna, BC to Dallas, TX

Non-Optimized Route 130msOptimized Route 57ms

KelownaToDallas.png

Kelowna, BC to Los Angeles, CA

Non-Optimized Route 63msOptimized Route 40ms

KelownaToLosAngeles.png

 

Your Game Provider - The Last Mile

The game provider controls the last leg of your journey, which is typically the data center(s) where they have their game servers. 

Your game provider is also quite often blamed for game lag.  As with ISPs, quite often your game provider is not the actual problem with the connection.  Typically, the middle mile is where the actual problem lies.

It is possible for game lag to be the fault of your game provider, or at least something under their influence.  One thing that can help your game provider to determine if there is an issue is by providing them with a traceroute to their IP addresses.  This can help them to see at a minimum that you don’t have cascading issues from your own ISP, and it might help to identify cascading issues with a router on their own network. 

If your game provider is having problems that are causing game lag, this is usually something that they are readily aware of.  Typically, game providers will have lag problems as a result of server overload, or perhaps DDOS.  In both cases the game provider is aware of the problem, and they should clearly communicate this to their users.

Think of your game provider as a restaurant.  When the restaurant gets full, service gets slower, your order is more likely to mess up, and you are less likely to get stress free service.  If the restaurant has a bunch of protestors or construction in front of it (DDOS), you might not be able to get into the restaurant at all. 

 

Game Networking is Complicated!

Gamers just want to have fun.  We know that, we’re gamers too.  It’s our mission at WTFast to give gamers a winning edge so you can kick butt and chew bubblegum.   You’ll be kicking so much butt; you can forget about the gum!

 

 

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